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Field of Dreams, and six more movies

Usually I prefer the odd or esoteric, but this week's winner is the big-budget baseball fantasy Field of Dreams (1989), because it's awesome. Once in a while Hollywood does something right.
 
Also very good: Aniara (2018), Can’t Get You Out of My Head (2021), Evil Dead (1981), Multiple Maniacs (1970), and Slacker (1991).

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The Neverending
Film Festival
#35

Aniara (2018)

This is a Swedish science fiction film, smart but not flashy, based on an epic poem by Harry Martinson. 

Thousands of passengers are leaving on a three-week ride from Earth to Mars, inside a spaceship that looks like a luxury hotel. Something has to go wrong, though, or there wouldn't be a movie.

It doesn't take long before the ship gets clobbered and crippled by some space debris. Nobody's hurt, and the ship is self-sufficient for food and water, but the damages mean that their journey will take years instead of weeks. From there, the film is a study in what happens to a society adrift.

Aniara is the opposite of anything you'd see from Hollywood. There are no laser fights or thrilling space battles, but the story pulls you in and seems plausible, the characters believable. It meanders sorta like life, and it's bleak, sad, and sometimes frustrating. 

I wasn't expecting quite so much nudity, sex, and general kookiness, but hey, a whole lot of people are stuck almost literally nowhere for years, what else are they going to do?

During this movie I laughed once, and I'm not sure I was supposed to. It's very serious, but if you're up for something serious, it's seriously worth seeing.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Bound for Glory (1976)

Woody Guthrie wrote some dang fine songs, and led an interesting life that could be the basis for a good movie, but this isn't that. 

David Carradine stars, Ronny Cox sings along, and they're fine, but the movie is slow-starting, and when it gets going it's still dull for long stretches. There's never much of an attempt to get inside Guthrie's head and understand the man, and there's surprisingly little of his music. Actually, no Guthrie songs are performed in their entirety, but over the closing credits there's a medley of clips from his hits, which only drives home how good this movie could've been.

The scenes of riding the rails and being hassled by bulls are well-done. To its credit, the moviemakers show Guthrie's dark side, and we learn that he was a bit of a prick.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Can’t Get You Out of My Head (2021)

Adam Curtis is an award-winning BBC documentary maker, and this 6-part miniseries has the BBC logo emblazoned in a corner, but it's not what you'd expect from the Beeb.

It's a quilt of 20th century history, from a British Empire perspective  but about people and events worldwide. The focus is on revolutionaries and radicals forgotten by time, including many I'd heard little about, like Jiang Qing, the former movie star who became Mrs Mao Tse Tung.

Curtis reads the facts, and tells you what he thinks they mean. His general tone is more conversational than "Wisdom from An Authority Figure," and he avoids drawing big-picture conclusions.

His narration is coupled with marvelous video footage that seems random but usually turns out to be pertinent — old-style dancing, ordinary people window-shopping, or eating lunch at an automat, throngs at Chinese Red Guard rallies, what's next? He had access to the BBC archives, is my guess, and took great care making his selections.

Here's a memorable moment, from the 1971 trial of Black Panthers in New York City. 21 activists had been charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to bomb buildings. 

The trial was held in a state of paranoia about further attacks by the Panthers. It also caused a sensation when it was revealed that three of the founding members of the group had been undercover police officers. 

What was stranger was that some of those officers were unaware that there were other undercover agents in the cell. They were also the most active members of the group.

"We had to organize everything," one of the undercover agents explained at the trial, "because everyone else in the group was off doing what they called 'their own shit'."

Yeah, that's entrapment, obviously, and since it's history I'll tell you: Despite being black, all the Panthers were acquitted. That's a plot twist I definitely hadn't expected.

Is there a grand unified theory to the huge array of topics covered in this series? I don't think so, or if there is it zinged right over my head. Some of it might be bullshit, I suppose, but none of it is obvious bullshit, which is more than I can say for the New York Times

Can’t Get You Out of My Head is too huge to describe much further — it's more than seven hours — but I watched it all, with no regrets. To me, the message is to keep an open mind, consume media with skepticism, and draw your own conclusions. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Evil Dead (1981)

A guy named Sam Raimi made this now-famous el cheapo horror movie starring people he knew. It's a familiar formula— some friends go to a cabin in the woods for the weekend, and strange events ensue. You'll generally know what's going to happen before it happens.

What matters more than the story, though, is that Mr Raimi gave it everything he had, and it shows. Hell, he gave me a dozen big goose bump moments, even with all the lights on in my apartment, and even having seen this movie several times before.

It's occasionally bloody and icky, but many, maybe most of the chills are atmospheric. It's a missing link between the old-school Vincent Price horror and the more modern gross-out horror that doesn't much appeal to me. 

Sam Raimi, of course, went on to make Army of Darkness, Spider-Man, Xena: Warrior Princess, etc.

His buddy and the star here, Bruce Campbell, mostly went on to play Bruce Campbell — he's famous for doing a campy smirk on camera, and I love that campy smirk, but in this movie he's smirk-free. He's acting, and he's quite good. So's the movie.

I'm a feminist and a gentleman, but in my opinion it's OK to punch a woman in the face if she's turning into a cackling tree monster. Discuss amongst yourselves.

As always, be careful not to mistake the real Evil Dead for the needless and pointless remake.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Field of Dreams (1989)

Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who hears voices in his cornfield, telling him to plow his crop under the dirt and build a baseball field instead. Amy Madigan plays his wife Annie, and usually in movies like this the Mrs is the voice of reason, arguing against anything out of the ordinary, but her character is an ex-hippie so she's on-board with her husband's nuttiness.

Once the ball field is build and the foul lines chalked, long-dead players from the Chicago Black Sox walk out of the corn wearing their old uniforms and carrying bats and balls, and soon it's time to "Play ball."

This is a fairy tale, obviously, but it hits all my weak spots and I cry every time I see it — and I've seen it at least twenty times. 

Field of Dreams is based on a book that's even better than the movie — Shoeless Joe, by W. P. Kinsella — and in the book, the voice tells Ray to find writer and hermit JD Salinger.

Salinger and his lawyers weren't charmed by this, so in the movie he's replaced by James Earl Jones as a fictitious reclusive writer, Thomas Mann. Jones is marvelous, but it's odd seeing a black man care quite so much about players from baseball's all-white era, or seeing those players warmly welcome Jones to the cornfield team.

There's a political moment I'd forgotten in all this, when Iowa locals demand the banning of several 'controversial' books, including the works of Mr Mann. In a town hall meeting, Annie K demolishes them all, and it's sweet to see, but it's even more of an illusion than the dead ballplayers. In the real world, we know, there's no talking sense to the book-banning crowd.

If you don't know or don't like baseball, this movie might be indecipherable to you. If you like the game, though, or used to be a fan (like me), then you've probably already seen Field of Dreams — it was a huge hit, remains popular, and even spawned a frickin' amusement park. Despite all that, it's dang close to perfect.

Same as there's no God, no Santa, and no Easter Bunny, there's also no CornField Whisperer, but unlike the other three, there ought to be.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Multiple Maniacs (1970)

"I love you so fucking much I could shit." 

As you might guess from that quote, this is a film by John Waters.

"This isn't any cheap X-rated movie or fifth-rate porno play. This is the show you want. Lady Divine's Cavalcade of Perversion — the sleaziest show on earth. Not actors, not paid imposters, but real actual filth, who have been carefully screened in order to present to you the most flagrant violation of natural law known to man."

Multiple Maniacs is one of Waters' early films, made when he was beginning to earn his reputation as the master of sleaze. The movie's Cavalcade of Perversion is a traveling freak show, but the audience is boring, whitebread, and middle-class. Hmmm.

The idea might have been at least partly inspired by boring, whitebread, mainstream critics' reaction to Waters' earlier films. That's just my theory, though, and probably hogwash — Waters never needed an excuse to be disgusting.

There's a long and hilarious scene where Divine goes into a church to pray, and instead gets seduced by a svelte blonde, who says as they're going at it, "Think about the stations of the cross, think about the stations of the cross!" The resulting ten-minute sex scene in the sanctuary, intercut with a procession of crucifixion reenactors, might conceivably be offensive to the oversensitive. Also, Divine is raped by a giant crab.

More unexpectedly, there's a sequence where Divine holds hands with a little boy who's wearing an Imperial butter crown, and it's sincerely sweet, and I am almost not kidding.

Is this movie enjoyable? Well, Waters made repulsive movies, intentionally, and Multiple Maniacs is repulsive, but repulsive can be very enjoyable indeed. I love this movie so fucking much I could shit.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Slacker (1991)

This was the movie that made Richard Linklater's name. Slacker plays with the way movie narrative works by wandering through a town, following different characters at random for a few minutes. When someone else approaches on the sidewalk or crosses the street, the camera gives up on the character you've been with, and follows the newcomer instead.

Sorta scripted, sorta improvised, it was filmed in Austin, where Linklater's from, using actors and characters that he knew. With more than a hundred speaking roles but no plot, Slacker holds your attention by making its characters oddballs, eccentrics, and kooks, or at least long-winded, and they all want to tell their barely coherent stories.

Slacker is a successful experiment, but it does gets tedious sometimes. Is everyone in Austin crazy?

The sanest person in town is an elderly gent who makes friends with a burglar who's broken into his home. They go on a walk together, and the old guy gives the crook a long spiel about being an anarchist, fighting in Spain with Orwell, the assassination of William McKinley, and his hatred for "so-called modern-day libertarians" who are really just capitalist fanboys. Uh, wait… maybe the old anarchist only seems sane to me because his kookiness aligns nicely with my own.

And now, I'll pretend I'm in the movie, and tell you my barely coherent story: 

'Artsy' flicks like this didn't play in Bakersfield when I lived there, but it looked intriguing on Siskel & Ebert, so I drove a hundred miles to see it at a UA mall multiplex in Fresno. Bought a ticket and popcorn, sat down, and when the movie started it looked wrong to me. All the images were curiously cropped, and any time there was a closeup, it was really close — nobody had hair, ears, or necks.

A strange artistic choice by the director, I thought, but about halfway through the movie it occurred to me that neither Siskel nor Ebert had mentioned all these extreme close-ups, so maybe something was wrong. Got up and went into the lobby, asked for the manager, and a popcorn girl pointed me to an usher, who knocked on a door where the manager emerged. I only said a few words to him before he cut me off, and laughed.

I was the third person to complain, he said. Sorry, they'd put the wrong lens on the projector, which is why all the images had their top, bottom, left, and right chopped off. He laughed again, and said they'd fix it before the next show, but "this screening is in the shitter."

He said I could stay and watch it projected correctly, but my mood was all wrong by then, so he gave me a free pass, good for admission to any UA Theater. I drove a hundred miles home, and hadn't really seen Slacker until today.

If this was in the movie, I'd be walking away now, and you'd spend the next five minutes with the theater's laughing manager.

Verdict: YES, but don't see it at a theater in Fresno.

♦ ♦ ♦

Just for fun, what movie is this from? 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Help wanted!
These are some movies I'm itching to see, but unable to find:

Be Pretty and Shut Up! (1981)
Calamari Union with English subtitles or dub (1985)
• Mama Steps Out
(1937)
The Spy Who Did It Better (1979)
Why Am I in a Box? (2010)

— — —

Find a movie
DVDpublic librarystreaming
If you can't find it, drop me a note.

2/18/2022 
 
Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


4 comments:

  1. A normal good movie!I like reading about the crazy stuff you watch but heres one I've seen!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't say Field of Dreams is normal.

      You watch the new stuff? I used to be in some cinema every Friday watching whatever was new and maybe interesting, but now I can't even name a movie in current release. Tell me what's good, though — I seriously wonder and wanna know.

      Delete
    2. Man, I'm with you. I used to, pre-Covid, see SOMETHING almost weekly, just because. I'd pick any sci-fi, horror, comedy, whatever, just to spend time at the movies. I think the last movie I saw was Long Shot, which has a ridiculously banal name, but was quite good:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Shot_(2019_film)

      Delete
    3. Pretty sure it was The Curse (1987) that broke me of my willingness to see almost anything. The title seems wrong, but that's the cast and synopsis. Not recommended.

      Long Shot, eh? Wikipedia says Seth Rogen grows up and boinks his ex-babysitter, which sounds like the male-est movie ever, not counting porno. Added to my list, thanks!

      Delete

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